Pat Thompson got into the blacksmithing profession a little late in life, but he’s definitely taking advantage of the knowledge he’s gained the past 17 years.
Thompson, 67, was recently named the Ozark Folk Center’s 2017 Crafter of the Year.
For the past four years, Thompson has been the resident blacksmith for the Folk Center. He is retiring from that position to teach the craft.
He was proud of being recognized for his craft.
“The award is presented each year,” Thompson said. “The nominees are done by the other craft people. A committee decided on who receives the award.
“It is basically an acknowledgment of the effort that you put into doing the job.”
While leaving the Ozark Folk Center Craft Village as its resident blacksmith, Thompson will continue to be associated with the Folk Center as a teacher.
“I’m retiring from that and moving on to teaching blacksmithing on an as-needed basis for the Ozark Folk Center and also at the Arkansas Craft School in Mountain View,” Thompson said. “I’m going to change more from day-to-day work to teaching.”
Thompson is a native of Little Rock, having graduated from Little Rock McClellan High School. He lived in Austin, Texas, for 20 years before moving to Mountain View. It was there that he discovered blacksmithing while visiting the Ozark Folk Center.
“I attended an event at the Ozark Folk Center as a tourist,” he said. “They convinced me to come back behind the rail and try a little bit of [blacksmithing]. I decided right then that I needed to know how to do it.”
Thompson said he served an apprenticeship at the center and demonstrated there for a couple of years on a part-time basis.
“I opened a custom blacksmith shop in Mountain View and did that for about seven or eight years,” he said. “Then I came back to the Ozark Folk Center about four years ago.”
Thompson worked in the electronics and communication business before becoming a blacksmith.
“I was a Motorola two-way radio dealer for police departments, fire departments and emergency medical teams,” he said. “At that time, we were designing systems and selling radios, working them and installing them.”
After becoming a blacksmith, Thompson continued to work in the communication field.
“I did some two-way radio work here part time,” he said, “and I was transitioning into blacksmithing. I just decided it was time to commit to that.”
Thompson described blacksmithing as something that is tangible.
“There are no intangibles about that,” he said. “There’s creativity, practice and efficiency. It’s all tangible stuff, and that is what appealed to me most.”
Thompson said that in his custom shop, he’s made furniture, lighting, benches, gates and railings.
“More recently at the Ozark Folk Center, it’s been more decorative items,” he said. “Little pendants, hooks, cooking utensils — smaller things that take a little less time do because you’re out there to show the guests as much as you can about the craft. If you stand there hamming for an hour on one project, they tend to move along.”
And while the stereotype is that a blacksmith makes only horseshoes, that’s not the case, Thompson said, and he relayed that information was part of his job at the Ozark Folk Center.
“Part of the job is interpreting that craft, talking its history,” he said. “What those blacksmiths said in the 1800s is what I mostly talk about — what they did rather than what we think they did.
“They made horseshoes, but that was a small part of their business. They made nails, hinges, plows, axes and chains — pretty much any kind of thing the people needed.”
While he’s going to teach full time, that aspect of blacksmithing is not foreign to Thompson.
“I’ve taught through the Folk Center and privately for some time,” he said. “It’s rewarding. To be able to do a little bit to see that the craft is continuing is pretty rewarding.
“There has been a resurgent in this craft in the past few years, which means I get more and more students of all different ages. Some are young. I’ve had students who are 12 years old, and I’ve had students who are 70 years old.”
Thompson described blacksmithing as “essentially heating up metal and changing its shape into something that is practical or beautiful.”
“There are some key tools you’ve got to have,” he said. “You’ve got to have some sort of an anvil. You’ve got to have a heat source, and you’ve got to have hand tools, many of which you can make yourself, which is one of the cool things about being a blacksmith. If you don’t have something you need, you can make it.”
Thompson uses two heat sources — a propane forge and a coal forge.
“There are things that are just par for the course — chisels, tongs, all kinds of jibs to make things with. Some blacksmiths make their own hammers. I have not done that yet.”
Jeanette Larson, craft director for the Ozark Folk Center, said Thompson has been a great part of the Folk Center experience.
“Visitors hear the ringing rhythm of his hammer striking the anvil as they enter the Craft Village, and it draws them through the part,” Larson said. “He has made hundreds of square nails for children over the years and explained the history and practicality of homesteading as he forged not only a nail, but a connection between the young person and the past.
“He is a quiet, patient teacher of folks interested in learning his art. I’ve really enjoyed working with Pat over the past several years.”
Other Ozark Folk Center Parkside Award winners are as follows:
• Music Group of the Year: Whoa Mule;
• Hospitality: Mary Gillihan;
• The Bette Rae Miller Spirit Award: Jeanette Larson; and
• Volunteer of the Year: Cindi Porterfield.
Staff writer Mark Buffalo can be reached at (501) 399-3676 or email@example.com.